Sunday, May 13, 2012
Today I was reading a missionary letter by Dr. Karla Koll, a university professor who is one of our PC(USA) overseas mission workers in Guatemala. (These mission letters, posted on our denominational, website, are well worth keeping up on, by the way; they're a treasure trove of stories for interpreting to our people how their contributions are put to good use for Jesus' sake.)
Dr. Koll was telling a story that highlights one of the problems we're having, these days, helping Presbyterians feel connected to mission:
"A few years ago I was talking with an elderly woman who was a member of a Presbyterian church in the United States. I asked her how she was involved in mission. 'I can't be involved in mission,' she told me. 'I'm not able to go on a mission trip.' Her answer broke my heart. How many churches have reduced involvement in God's mission to a particular mission practice in which only active adults and teenagers with sufficient resources to buy a plane ticket can participate?
All Christians are called into mission. In the local church, each and every believer, from the kindergarten children in Sunday school to the folks whose health keeps them shut in at home, should discover the ways in which they can participate in God's work in the world. Some of the most faithful supporters of my work in mission are women who faithfully pray for me and my colleagues at CEDEPCA, even though they are no longer able to participate very actively in their local churches."
It's a great thing that so many of our churches are planning short-term mission trips that take members of the congregation to areas of need, in this country and overseas. These can be life-changing experiences, and can revitalize a congregation's attitude towards mission beyond the local community.
Yet, as Karla's story indicates, mission trips can easily become the proverbial tail that wags the dog. If our congregation becomes so enamored of the short-term mission trip that they stop feeling connected to general, undesignated Presbyterian mission, then we've got our priorities askew. It's a great thing if the youth group can travel to some storm-ravaged community for a week and learn how to hang sheetrock, or even fly to a two-thirds-world country and install a water pump for the community well, but when the week's over, they're back home again and the mission work is ended. Mission workers like Karla are the ones who stay behind, who immerse themselves in the lives and culture of Christian communities overseas. They do things, for the glory of God, that no short-term mission tripper could dream of.
Both the short-term and the long-term mission outreach are important. Yet, they're fundamentally different, and we need to keep a balance between them.
Yes, I realize designated mission giving is all the rage these days. Yet, let's not forget the value of learning about what mission workers like Karla are doing, and telling their stories to our people every chance we get.
We are all connected. We are all working together. We are Presbyterians in mission.